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Auditor error forces redo of Bremerton city council district election

The "rerun" election comes after the KCAO acknowledged that it mistakenly sent out several dozen ballots to voters in another district last year.

BREMERTON, Wash. — It is the rarest of political do-overs and comes after an admitted error by the Kitsap County Auditor's Office (KCAO).

On Tuesday, Mike Simpson and Anna Mockler will face off again in a strange February election for Bremerton City Council District 6.

The KCAO acknowledged that it mistakenly sent out several dozen ballots to voters in another district last year. After a narrow race in November, a judge called for the election to happen again.

"It was human error," said Kitsap County Auditor Paul Andrews, about what has been a bizarre chain of events regarding this particular Bremerton council seat.

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Simpson was first elected to the seat in 2019, but was called to Japan for his full time job at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyards in 2021. His council colleagues voted to vacate his seat, citing the City Charter and a 30-day absence, before re-appointing him immediately. The move triggered a special municipal election in November, before the term was originally up.

Concurrently, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioner had voted to amend Bremerton precinct boundaries because of changing density. By state law, precincts may not exceed 1,500 registered voters. 

However, precincts are different than city districts, and Andrews said those did not change. It led to his office mistakenly shipping ballots to 183 households in District 5 for the District 6 race.

Simpson said he notified the auditor's office in June that he thought something was off with the voter rolls, but no action was taken until October, a week before the election. Andrews said his office had already received 36 of the ballots back from the wrong district.

Once all the votes were counted, Simpson was up on Mockler by just three votes. Both candidates said they knew, if the final margin was within the 36 ballot gap, what would happen next.

A Kitsap County Superior Court Judge agreed with Andrews to 'rerun' the election, and hold it again in February, with a levy already on the ballot.

"It's an inconvenience," acknowledged Mockler on Friday, but said, "Nothing has occurred to shake my confidence." 

She said she had continued doorbelling and reminding people that she's the candidate who made the 13th and Wyckoff intersection a four-way stop. 

"This is something I can do well, I can represent the people of this district, a working district," said Mockler.

Andrews said he's made changes to the office and taken out the human element of crossreferencing precinct and district lines. 

"We have built a better mousetrap," he said. "To me it is transparency. We discovered the error, we notified everybody about it and we had a process to follow to do it."

Yet Simpson doesn't hide his frustration with it all. 

"I won the election, I won the election with three votes," he said. "This has done nothing to improve the relationship the auditor has with the voters to build up integrity."

"It doesn't give me a warm fuzzy," he continued, "having to run again because somebody else made a booboo."

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